Seafarer's professions and ranks
Seafarers hold a variety of professions and ranks, and each of these roles carries unique responsibilities which are integral to the successful operation of a seafaring vessel. A ship's bridge
Bridge (ship)
The bridge of a ship is the room or platform from which the ship can be commanded. When a ship is underway the bridge is manned by an OOW aided usually by an AB acting as lookout...

, filled with sophisticated equipment, requires skills differing from those used on the deck, which houses berthing and cargo gear, which requires skills different from those used in a ship's engine room
Engine room
On a ship, the engine room, or ER, commonly refers to the machinery spaces of a vessel. To increase the safety and damage survivability of a vessel, the machinery necessary for operations may be segregated into various spaces, the engine room is one of these spaces, and is generally the largest...

, and so on.

The following is only a partial listing of professions and ranks. Ship operators have understandably employed a wide variety of positions, given the vast array of technologies, missions, and circumstances that ships have been subjected to over the years. A ship's crew can generally be divided into four main categories: the deck department, the engineering department, the steward's department, and other.


The captain or master is the ship's highest responsible officer, acting on behalf of the ship's owner. Whether the captain is a member of the deck department or not is a matter of some controversy, and generally depends on the opinion of an individual captain. When a ship has a Third Mate
Third Mate
A Third Mate or Third Officer is a licensed member of the deck department of a merchant ship. The third mate is a watchstander and customarily the ship's safety officer and fourth-in-command...

, the Captain does not stand watch.

Chief officer/chief mate

The chief officer (often called the chief mate in the United States) is the head of the deck department
Deck department
The Deck Department is an organizational unit aboard naval and merchant ships. A Deck Officer is an officer serving in the deck department.-Merchant shipping:...

 on a merchant vessel
Cargo ship
A cargo ship or freighter is any sort of ship or vessel that carries cargo, goods, and materials from one port to another. Thousands of cargo carriers ply the world's seas and oceans each year; they handle the bulk of international trade...

, second-in-command
The Second-in-Command is the deputy commander of any British Army or Royal Marines unit, from battalion or regiment downwards. He or she is thus the equivalent of an Executive Officer in the United States Army...

 after the ship's master. The chief mate's primary responsibilities are the vessel's cargo
Cargo is goods or produce transported, generally for commercial gain, by ship, aircraft, train, van or truck. In modern times, containers are used in most intermodal long-haul cargo transport.-Marine:...

 operations, its stability, and supervising the deck crew. The mate is responsible for the safety and security of the ship, as well as the welfare of the crew on board. The chief mate typically stands the 4-8 navigation watch. Additional duties include maintenance of the ship's hull, cargo gears, accommodations, the life saving appliances and the firefighting appliances. The Chief Mate also trains the crew and cadets on various aspects like safety, firefighting, search and rescue, and various other contingencies.

Second officer/second mate

The second officer (or second mate) of a merchant vessel is usually in charge of navigation and is the next licensed position above third officer and below chief officer as third-in-command. The second mate typically stands the 12-4 navigation watch. That is, the second mate will stand watch from 1200 to 1600 at noon and again from 0000 to 0400 in the nights. The second mate is typically the navigation officer aboard a ship. The navigation officer is responsible for maintaining the charts and navigational equipment on the bridge. The duties also usually entail developing the voyage plans under the direction of the ship's master. In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 system, it takes 360 days of sea service as a licensed Third Officer before one can become a Second Officer.

Third officer/third mate

The third officer (or third mate) of a merchant vessal is primarily charged the safety of the ship and crew. The third mate is the next license position onboard the vessal, being fourth-in-command after the captain, first/chief mate, and second mate. The third mate tends to take the 0800 to 1200 watch.


A boatswain, often (at least since 1868) phonetically spelled
Spelling is the writing of one or more words with letters and diacritics. In addition, the term often, but not always, means an accepted standard spelling or the process of naming the letters...

 and pronounced bosun, is in charge of the unlicensed deck crew and is sometimes also third or fourth mate.

Able seaman

In the modern merchant marine, an able seaman (AB) is a member of the deck department
Deck department
The Deck Department is an organizational unit aboard naval and merchant ships. A Deck Officer is an officer serving in the deck department.-Merchant shipping:...

 and must possess a merchant mariner's document
Merchant Mariner's Document
Countries with a Merchant Navy or Merchant Marine require identifying credentials for their mariners. The Merchant Mariner's Document or Z-card in the United States, and the Ordinary Seaman's Certificate in the United Kingdom are examples of these credentials.-United Kingdom:An Ordinary Seaman...

. An AB will work in a ship's deck department
Deck department
The Deck Department is an organizational unit aboard naval and merchant ships. A Deck Officer is an officer serving in the deck department.-Merchant shipping:...

 as either a watchstander, a day worker, or a combination of these roles.

At sea an AB watchstander's duties include standing watch
Watchstanding, or watchkeeping, in nautical terms concerns the division of qualified personnel to operate a ship continuously around the clock. On a typical sea going vessel, be it naval or merchant, personnel keep watch on the bridge and over the running machinery...

 as helmsman
A helmsman is a person who steers a ship, sailboat, submarine, or other type of maritime vessel. On small vessels, particularly privately-owned noncommercial vessels, the functions of skipper and helmsman may be combined in one person. On larger vessels, there is a separate officer of the watch,...

 and lookout
A lookout or look-out is a person on a ship in charge of the observation of the sea for hazards, other ships, land, etc. Lookouts report anything they see and or hear. When reporting contacts, lookouts give information such as, bearing of the object, which way the object is headed, target angles...

. A helmsman is required to maintain a steady course, properly execute all rudder orders and communicate utilizing navigational terms relating to heading and steering. While the ship is not underway, a watchstander may be called upon to stand security-related watches, such as a gangway watch or anchor watch.

Ordinary seaman

In the United States Merchant Marine
United States Merchant Marine
The United States Merchant Marine refers to the fleet of U.S. civilian-owned merchant vessels, operated by either the government or the private sector, that engage in commerce or transportation of goods and services in and out of the navigable waters of the United States. The Merchant Marine is...

, an ordinary seaman or OS is an entry-level position in a ship's deck department. An OS performs a variety of duties concerned with the operation and upkeep of deck department areas and equipment. Upkeep duties include scaling, buffing, and painting decks and superstructure; as well as sweeping and washing the deck. An OS may splice wire and rope; break out, rig, overhaul, and stow cargo-handling gear, stationary rigging, and running gear. Additionally, the OS secures cargo, as well as launches and recovers boats. The OS may rig and operate hydrographic and other specialty winches; handle and stow oceanographic explosives; and stage and stow beach support equipment.

Chief engineer

The chief engineer on a merchant vessel is the official title of someone qualified to oversee the engine department. The qualification for this position is colloquially called a "Chief's Ticket".

The Chief Engineer commonly referred to as "The Chief", "Cheng", or just "Chief" is responsible for all operations and maintenance that have to do with all engineering equipment throughout the ship.

Second engineer/first assistant engineer

The second engineer or first assistant engineer is the officer responsible for supervising the daily maintenance
Maintenance, Repair and Operations
Maintenance, repair, and operations or maintenance, repair, and overhaul involves fixing any sort of mechanical or electrical device should it become out of order or broken...

 and operation of the engine
An engine or motor is a machine designed to convert energy into useful mechanical motion. Heat engines, including internal combustion engines and external combustion engines burn a fuel to create heat which is then used to create motion...

 department. He or she reports directly to the chief engineer.

On a merchant vessel, depending on term usage, "The First" or "The Second" is the marine engineer second in command of the engine department after the ship's chief engineer. The person holding this position is typically the busiest engineer aboard the ship, due to the supervisory role this engineer plays and the operations duties performed. Operational duties include responsibility for the refrigeration systems, main engines (steam
Steam is the technical term for water vapor, the gaseous phase of water, which is formed when water boils. In common language it is often used to refer to the visible mist of water droplets formed as this water vapor condenses in the presence of cooler air...

Gas is one of the three classical states of matter . Near absolute zero, a substance exists as a solid. As heat is added to this substance it melts into a liquid at its melting point , boils into a gas at its boiling point, and if heated high enough would enter a plasma state in which the electrons...

A turbine is a rotary engine that extracts energy from a fluid flow and converts it into useful work.The simplest turbines have one moving part, a rotor assembly, which is a shaft or drum with blades attached. Moving fluid acts on the blades, or the blades react to the flow, so that they move and...

, diesel
Diesel engine
A diesel engine is an internal combustion engine that uses the heat of compression to initiate ignition to burn the fuel, which is injected into the combustion chamber...

), and any other equipment not assigned to the second assistant engineer/third engineer or the third assistant engineer/fourth engineer(s). If the engine room requires round the clock attendance and other junior engineers can cover the three watch rotations, this officer is usually a "day worker" from 0630-1830.

Third engineer/second assistant engineer

The third engineer or second assistant engineer is junior to the Second Engineer/First Assistant Engineer in the engine department and is usually in charge of boilers, fuel, auxiliary engines, condensate, and feed systems. This engineer is the third highest marine engineer in rank. Depending on usage, "The Second" or "The Third" is also typically in charge of fueling or bunkering, if the officer holds a valid Person In Charge (PIC) endorsement for fuel transfer operations.

Fourth engineer/third assistant engineer

The fourth engineer or third assistant engineer is junior to the second assistant engineer/third engineer in the engine department. The most junior marine engineer of the ship, he or she is usually responsible for electrical, sewage
Sewage is water-carried waste, in solution or suspension, that is intended to be removed from a community. Also known as wastewater, it is more than 99% water and is characterized by volume or rate of flow, physical condition, chemical constituents and the bacteriological organisms that it contains...

 treatment, lube oil, bilge
The bilge is the lowest compartment on a ship where the two sides meet at the keel. The word was coined in 1513.-Bilge water:The word is sometimes also used to describe the water that collects in this compartment. Water that does not drain off the side of the deck drains down through the ship into...

, and oily water separation systems. Depending on usage, this person is called "The Third", "The Fourth" or "Pourth" - (if sailing with Filipino crew), and usually stands a watch. Moreover, the Fourth Engineer may assist the third mate
Third Mate
A Third Mate or Third Officer is a licensed member of the deck department of a merchant ship. The third mate is a watchstander and customarily the ship's safety officer and fourth-in-command...

 in maintaining proper operation of the lifeboats. In the U.S. fleet, it is not uncommon for the Third Engineer to carry the nickname "Turd Third" due to his/her sewage treatment responsibilities.

Engineering cadet

A trainee engineer officer normally reports to the second engineer. Their role as trainee is to observe and learn, while helping out where possible. As they have no 'ticket' a cadet can not hold a watch, but will likely assist one of the qualified engineers with their watch. Typical duties are limited to preparing the tea and coffee at breaks ('smokos') for the engineering team.
The Engine Cadets epaulette is purple, as with the other engineers, however has only one gold horizontal strip (UK system).

Chief steward

The chief steward directs, instructs, and assigns personnel performing such functions as preparing and serving meals; cleaning and maintaining officers' quarters and steward department areas; and receiving, issuing, and inventorying stores. The chief steward also plans menus; compiles supply, overtime, and cost control records. The Steward may requisition or purchase stores and equipment. Additional duties may include baking bread, rolls, cakes, pies, and pastries. A chief steward's duties may overlap with those of the Steward's Assistant
Steward's Assistant
A steward's assistant is an unlicensed, entry-level crewmember in the Steward's department of a merchant ship. This position can also be referred to as steward , galley utilityman, messman, supply or waiter.The role of the SA consists mainly of stocking, cleaning and assisting with the...

, the Chief Cook
Chief Cook
A chief cook is a senior unlicensed crewmember working in the steward's department of a merchant ship.The chief cook directs and participates in the preparation and serving of meals; determines timing and sequence of operations required to meet serving times; inspects galley and equipment for...

, and other Steward's Department crew members.

Chief cook

The chief cook is a senior unlicensed crew member working in the Steward's department of a ship.

The chief cook directs and participates in the preparation and serving of meals; determines timing and sequence of operations required to meet serving times; inspects galley and equipment for cleanliness and proper storage and preparation of food.

External links

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